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3D, or not 3D? September 9, 2009

Posted by mbdavenport in Uncategorized.
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3D has been garnering a lot of interest over the last few months with the arrival of several large-scale 3D movie releases and announcement of several new technologies at IFA last week. But is it really going to be the next big thing?

I have to admit that I remain sceptical. Whilst the capability to view DVDs, computer games and television in 3D has appeared to have excited a number of people that I know, I’m not sure that it will really catch on. And there are a couple of reasons for this.

Firstly, I’m not sure that 3D will make any real inroads into television or movies outside of the cinema. One place that it might see relative success is in computer and video games. 3D is an immersive technology, one that places the viewer closer to the content. This is of benefit when you’re taking part in an immersive gaming experience. Video games try to place the gamer in the game as opposed to remaining as a detached spectator and seeing bullets fly over your head as you’re scrambling for cover from an enemy sniper nest/tank/spaceship/etc. will increase that feeling of involvement with the world that has been crafted for you.

One thing that I’m not so sure that I’d want to be involved in is watching Norris, Emily and Rita sitting around in the Rovers Return drinking vodka and tonic. Television is a spectator experience and it remains to be seen if 3D can actually offer the viewer anything that the viewer wants or needs.

And 3D has to offer the viewer something that they want else the TV networks and production companies won’t bother investing in it. This leads me in to my second reason that 3D will probably fail: TV networks are painfully slow to introduce and support new viewing technologies.

I remember working in a Sony Centre in Oxford when I was at University. I spent my weekends hawking HDTVs to people telling them that it was going to be the next big thing and how soon all TV would have the HD-sexy. That was back in 2006. Three and a half years later and the only HD channel that I have on my television is BBC HD. Sure it looks nice but it spends most of the days ‘previewing’ itself and when it is playing programmes they’re rarely programmes that I want to watch. Christ, we in the UK haven’t even completed the digital switchover! TV c0mpanies will take forever to start using 3D broadcasts. And (if) when they do it’ll probably be in the form of one specialist channel on Sky with a limited programme schedule. And you know what? You’re still going to have to wear those dorky glasses.


How libraries are to become cool again September 2, 2009

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Recently Sony announced the Daily Edition, their new entry in to the burgeoning e-reader market. Due for a stateside release in December it represents Sony’s most convincing competitor to Amazon’s Kindle and Kindle DX.

The device will feature a 7-inch touchscreen e-ink display, free 3G data connection and support for the ePUB format. This last feature will allow users to download, sideload and then read some 30,000 books from Project Gutenberg. This won’t be the only way to get free reading material on the device, however. Sony has also announced a partnership with Overdrive.com that will allow users to download, on temporary license, copies of books from their local library.

Of all things it’s this that excites me the most. It’s brilliant. A completely genius way to pull our ageing libraries in to the 21st century. You surf to a website, search for your local library and download a book from them – including new releases.

There is one problem with this: each library only has a limited number of licenses per book. In the same way that a library will only have one or two copies of a particular book to lend, so they shall only have one or two licences that people can borrow.

Currently, if you want to join the waiting queue for a book that’s currently on loan you have to go out of your way to go to the library and register your interest. This requisite effort controls the length of the queue for that book. After all, most people would prefer to order a book from Amazon than travel to the library after work. If people are able to join a queue for a book by checking a box on their e-reader would the queues increase to length resulting in month-long waits for books? Such delays could effectively cripple the service completely in relation to new or popular books. 

There is still the option of buying a book rather than waiting in a e-library queue and I’m sure that it’s an option that many users would exercise given the choice, directing any unmet demand to Sony’s own online book store.

Admittedly how cool this turns out to be will depend entirely on the content made available through the partnership with Overdrive.com and, more importantly, how this will be implemented over here in the UK should the Daily Edition ever reach our shores (no word on price or availability at time of writing). But something tells me that this could be the extremely viable future for our libraries.

HTC Hero – 14 days in September 1, 2009

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Since signing up to Vodafone with a Nokia E51 back in March 2008 I had not been making any special effort to stay abreast of mobile phone development. As my contract came up for renewal so came the need to pick a new handset.

I didn’t really want an iPhone. Sure, the 3G S and accompanying release of iPhone OS 3.0 addressed a lot of the short-comings that put me off, but all the MMS in the world wouldn’t stop me from feeling like an insecure sheep every time I pulled it out. Charlie Brooker made a good summation of my feelings here.

That said, the iPhone form-factor did appeal to me. A convenient fact given that everyone is now out to ape the design. Still, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t a few companies out there trying to do things differently. I was also keen to try Android on for size. Something, I suspect, that comes down to that stereotypical British desire to see the underdog win out, though how anything with the backing of Google could be considered to be an underdog I will never know. Unfortunately, for everything that had been said about the new incumbent in the mobile OS arena its still looking a bit uggers.

To the rescue comes HTC with the Hero. It had an iPhone form-factor without looking like an iPhone (think what you like I heart that chin) and an Android OS without looking like piggy sick.

So I bought one.  Here are my thoughts following a fortnight of abusage, in bullet-points should you wish to skim-read or plagarise my thoughts for a daily newspaper’s tech section (please Guardian, PLEASE).

  • Battery life is average/very poor. Average by any other touchscreen device with Wi-Fi and 3G, very poor by the standard of any other feature phone. If I wake up in the morning with a full charge my battery will be flat by around 8 p.m. That said, I have friends who have similar problems with their iPhones. At least I have the option of carrying a spare battery that I can swap out.
  • Fit and finish of the phone has remained beautiful and the oleophobic screen coating does a good job of reducing finger prints.
  • The phone can sometimes lag badly. Sense UI is a beautiful implemenation of Android but sometimes it feel that the Hero is slightly underpowered for it. It’s not earth-ruining but it can be pretty annoying. An iPhone user will likely find the OS janky and “influid”, as a colleague of mine coined. In regular use it isn’t a problem though I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t waiting for a Hero replacement running Tegra.
  • Android Market needs a refresh – a competitor to the App Store it is not.
  • Keyboard is very good at the text prediction. This is just as well because typing accurately is very difficult. Calibrating the keyboard helps this but not by enough.
  • Integrating Facebook with your phone contacts is a stroke of genius. It saves having to assign photos to all of your contacts manually as it pulls them all from their Facebook accounts.
  • The trackball seems to be broken. For some reason every now and again my trackball believes that it’s rolling when in fact it is not. This can make reading websites very painful as the page begins hurriedly scrolling in any direction apart from that in which I want to read. Not sure if this is a hardware or software fault but I can’t replicate it. If it keeps it up though I will be contacting HTC. Hopefully the rumoured Hero firmware update will patch this.

All in all, I’m happy and look forward to the aforementioned firmware update from HTC that is said to address some of the performance issues that reviewers have found niggling. Further updates to come.